We are studying idols and false gods on today’s episode of the Bible Study Podcast. Our special guest today is Jordan Arnold. Jordan and his wife, Natalie, were missionaries in the Slovak Republic for 7 years. They now live in Oklahoma, where he preaches for the Hooker Church of Christ.
This is the second episode in a series in which Wes interviews preachers about what they have been studying and teaching lately. Jordan has been focusing on the Bible’s massive subtext: God versus the gods, the gods we inherit and forge. Wes and Jordan discuss how studying this topic has impacted him and the congregation.
We hope this study is a blessing as you learn to love like Jesus.
Links and Resources:
Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
Studying Idolatry with Jordan Arnold
WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here, we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to start today by reading from Romans chapter 1, starting in verse 16, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Today on our Bible study we’re going to be talking about idolatry, false gods. I’m going to be visiting with my friend, Jordan Arnold, and talking about how he’s been studying and teaching and preaching about how God is so much better than the false gods that we forge and inherit. I hope that you enjoy this Bible study, and I hope that it helps all of us to learn to love like Jesus.
WES: Jordan, welcome to the Bible Study podcast.
JORDAN: Yeah, thanks for inviting me.
WES: Well, thanks for being here. I’ve been listening to several of your sermons lately. We met at Red River, and I really enjoyed getting to hear you and Billy McGuiggan teach together, talk about Hosea, and just some of the great points that you brought out there. And then ever since I asked you to come on and be part of this series, I’ve been listening to some of your sermons about Rahab, Ruth, and Micah and his lucky Levite, and some of the teachings that you’ve been doing lately, and so I thought, man, I can’t wait to have this conversation. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been teaching and what you’ve been studying lately?
JORDAN: Yeah. Well, first of all, McGuiggan ‑‑ Billy’s ‑‑ what a fine man, what a good brother.
WES: No doubt.
JORDAN: So yeah, what I’ve been preaching, teaching, talking about lately is really kind of a focus on what Jim McGuiggan calls the massive subtext of the Bible, you know, this theme of God versus the gods, and looking at some of the ‑‑ kind of the inconspicuous gods that we have among us. Just because they’re not titled doesn’t mean they don’t shake the foundations of the earth. That’s really been kind of my focus lately.
WES: Yeah, and some of the quotes that ‑‑ I wrote down a bunch of stuff. I maybe should save them until later in our conversation, but they were so good. I wrote down a bunch of the things that you said about these false gods. And feel free to elaborate on any of these quotes, or tell me if I’ve gotten them wrong, but I love what you said when you were talking about Micah’s idol being stolen from his home, and you said, “Any God you create can be taken from you.”
WES: It’s like, oh, man, that’s rich. You said, “False gods die from neglect.” You said whenever ‑‑ well, I’ll go to this one. Oh, man, this was so good. I really want to come back to this idea. You said, “The love of God is what no false god can give.” You’re talking about the idea of these ‑‑ the things that we go after, the meeting of our physical needs, the meeting of our basic needs, but the thing that we really need is the love of God, and, I mean, that’s right at the heart, I think, of Romans 1 and just such a rich idea. So, wow, these thoughts about our false gods and what those false gods might be and how we struggle with them, and not even knowing or being as honest ‑‑ maybe the ancient people were more honest than we are in calling them gods and acknowledging that that’s what they were doing, that they were worshiping these false gods in order ‑‑ of course, they didn’t think they were false, but worshiping these gods in order to gain these things, when sometimes maybe we’re just not honest with ourselves about what we’re doing.
JORDAN: Yeah. I mean, I think all of scripture, in a way, is kind of an exposition or commentary on Exodus 3, the revelation of God as this ‑‑ as being, itself. God is the source of being, the source of meaning, but the God ‑‑ remember Moses? He sees the bush burning, but it’s not being consumed, and so he asks himself this question: Why? Why is this bush burning and it’s not consumed? And, of course, it’s the revelation of God, and I think the text invites us to answer that question. What is the nature of God that he’s different than the gods? And the God of Exodus 3 discloses himself as the self‑existent, the being itself, ontologically different, a different category than all the other gods. He doesn’t compete. He doesn’t derive his existence from a stream of worshipers like a hidden propane line or something. He burns, but doesn’t consume. He’s other. He exists to give and, therefore, all is grace. I think, yeah, when God discloses himself, and that self‑disclosure of God is opposed to all the various ways we might imagine God to be or the way that we assume that God is based on our understanding of fallen, sinful man, who are God’s images, right? But God is of a different sort.
WES: Yeah. Amen. Talk, if you will ‑‑ in your notes, when we kind of e‑mailed back and forth about our conversation today, you said “the gods we inherit or forge.” That ‑‑ you are such a brilliant guy, and I hope that you have people in your life that are telling you that, but our texts back and forth and our e‑mails back and forth ‑‑ I thought, man, I am intellectually out of my depth with Jordan. You are such a brilliant guy. But like every sentence that you write, I feel like it could be fleshed out and expanded upon. And you said, “God versus the gods, the gods we inherit and forge.” I mean, let’s just stop there for just a second. Like talk about that, if you would, inheriting gods and forging gods. Like I thought, man, that’s such a brilliant just turn of phrase, an idea that ‑‑ we do; we inherit gods and we forge gods, so expand on that, if you don’t mind.
JORDAN: Yeah. I mean, I think you can see that when the children of Israel are there in the wilderness, it’s the gods of Egypt they bring with them. I mean, the title’s the same, right? This is Yahweh. This is the one who brought you out of Egypt, but the table of contents is completely altered. They’re bringing the gods from Egypt they’ve inherited, and I think there’s an analog there to the various cultural ‑‑ the gods of sex, the gods of nation, the gods of tribe, the gods that ‑‑ I think maybe a definition of what we think a god is is important. A god is what we seek, or who we seek, or something that we seek to derive transcendence, that we seek to derive meaning, that we seek as an end and source of the goods that are necessary for life. I mean, we need ‑‑ I mean, fertility is a good thing, right? Shelter is a good thing. The thunder, the lightning, that’s a good thing, but they’re not ends in and of themselves. They’re not arranged under the “I am,” right? And so whenever we exalt or we elevate these things that, by nature, are not gods, they can only lead to disappointment. Like I said, they can be stolen, for starters, and they will be stolen because God refuses to let us be, ultimately, victims of our own ignorance or darkness.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And you said something in one of your lessons ‑‑ they all kind of run together in my mind because I’ve been listening to all of these kind of back to back, but you said something about how people don’t like when you tell them that their gods aren’t real. And we do; we inherit these ideas, these gods, from our family, from ‑‑ you know, again, sometimes we forge them ourselves, but some of them are so inherited and so enmeshed in our culture that to kind of call them out ‑‑ and this is one of the things that I really appreciated about your lesson at Red River, is that you were willing to go there. You were willing to mention some things specifically that we struggle with. You mentioned the military industrial complex as one of the things. You mentioned sports. I often joke ‑‑ I live in the Dallas area, and I often joke about how when I go to Arlington and there’s the Rangers stadium ‑‑ well, there’s two Rangers stadiums now, and the Cowboys stadium, and Six Flags, and I always think that a thousand years from now they’re gonna dig this up and they’re gonna say this is where Texans came to worship their gods, and we ‑‑ you know, I can’t help but imagine how similar these structures are to the Roman temples. And so, you know, we have these things, but when they get called out and when people point out you’re giving your loyalty, your allegiance, your devotion to these false gods, there can be a lot of pushback from people that get very uncomfortable when you call out their gods.
JORDAN: Yeah. Yeah, because, I mean, we don’t like to get ‑‑ nobody likes to get called out, right? I mean, nobody ‑‑ and it’s not just ‑‑ I mean, there’s an embarrassment, right? I mean, an embarrassment that, wait a minute, what I’ve given my life to is what Paul calls nothing, right? And that ‑‑ what did Kierkegaard say? There’s no sorrow like remembering the future that you don’t get to have. And to see, I mean, I’ve wasted my life, I’ve sought meaning in that which just, definitionally, can’t provide meaning because itself is a creation, right? And that’s the source, I think, of ‑‑ I think there’s a meaning crisis kind of running the day in the Western world right now, this collapse of meaning because I’m not orienting myself to the true image of God. I’m orienting myself ‑‑ I mean, it’s axiomatic, biblically. You become like what you worship, and when you’re worshiping wrong gods, you become blind. You have eyes, but can’t see. You have ears, but can’t hear. You have feet, but can’t do anything. You become worthless. And I don’t mean that in a personal sense; I mean your life becomes devoid of meaning. What do I mean by “meaning”? Well, like what makes a sentence meaningful? Well, the subject and the object agree. Like there’s a relation between the subject and the object. But whenever we become detached from the object, well, you get the meaning crisis that we have that manifests as the mental‑health crisis, suicide rates, you know, these anti‑creation moves, like the transgenderism movement, or this ‑‑ I can no longer recognize my place in the world because I can’t orient myself objectively and agree with the God who’s making sense of things, so we become unintelligible and our lives become unintelligible, and that’s the meaninglessness of the modern ‑‑ or post‑modernity, I guess.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s so much ‑‑ I feel like we could just stay on this one question or this one thought for so long, just how we are so guilty of chasing things, like you said, that don’t matter, and then we find that ‑‑ at the end of that, we find that our lives don’t matter when we orient ‑‑ I love that word ‑‑ when we orient ourselves towards something that doesn’t matter. So let me ask you this: What initially piqued your interest and thought this is the idea that I really need to focus on for a while and really help people to see?
JORDAN: Yeah, I don’t know. From the time I was in high school, I mean, I read a lot of Sartre and some of the existentialists, so I probably brought some of it on myself. But yeah, I mean, there’s this ‑‑ as a Westerner, I’m a ‑‑ I guess what they would call an elder millennial, so 39 years old. But, I mean, just culturally, that’s the zeitgeist; that’s the moment we’re in. Man has tried getting rid of the creator. We’ve had technology, industrialization. We’ve realized that we can create the world
according to our own wills, our own desires. We have the technology; we have the capability, and so this sense of, well, what’s God useful for anymore if he’s not just making stuff? And so I think it was a confrontation with my own lack of meaning, my own lack of purpose, I suppose. And then my wife and I, we were missionaries in Slovakia and in Central Europe for about seven years, and living in Central Europe, kind of the post‑Christendom milieu, gives you, I think, a foretaste, or a kind of a preview, of what’s to come in our ‑‑ as post‑Christendom kind of descends on our country.
WES: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s interesting. I think about this moment that we’re in culturally, and I feel like there’s so much division and polarization, and there’s sort of ‑‑ everything is seen in this binary of right and left and blue and red. And I don’t know what it’s like in Europe, but certainly we see these, like, culture‑war issues. But we’ve already brought up a couple of different things, and, you know, people on one side seem to be chasing X, Y, and Z, and people on the other side seem to be chasing A, B, and C, but I feel like ‑‑ and I don’t know if you would agree with this or not, but I feel like both sides have their idols that they’re chasing after, and it’s sort of this division between two visions of the world, but both have their faults and are really chasing nothing. And I feel like, if we’re followers of Jesus, that we have to stop going after either side and thinking, oh, well, this side’s gods are so much better than this side’s gods. In fact, it kind of reminds me of that conversation that Joshua has ‑‑ and you brought this out in one of your lessons ‑‑ and he asks the commander of the Lord’s army ‑‑ he asked this angelic being that he’s having this conversation with, “Whose side are you on? Are you on our side or are you on our opponent’s side?” And he says, “Neither.”
WES: And I feel like that’s how we should be at this moment in our life. One side of our culture is chasing the gods of sexuality; the other side is chasing the gods of nationalism, and it’s like, I don’t think God is for either of those sides, and God is calling out the idolatry of both.
JORDAN: But I think what unites the two ‑‑ so the side pursuing idols or the side pursuing, I mean, unrepentantly or uncritically just headlong in pursuit of idols or the godly person in pursuit of God, what unites them both is that pursuit of meaning. They’re looking to make sense of this thing, right?
JORDAN: Where is the agreement? And the Christian thing is, yeah, you’re the image of God. God puts his idols on this earth. They have ears that can hear, eyes that can see, and feet that can walk; and, therefore, his idols have a job to do. And I think that realization of meaning is ‑‑ that’s the thing. I mean, in Genesis, whenever God ‑‑ remember whenever God puts ‑‑ in Genesis 2, when God puts man into the garden, there’s an infinitive, to work it, to grow, I mean, to be fruitful, to be God’s partners in this thing. And so, like, there’s a reason that we identify our work. Like whenever I introduce myself, “Hey, I’m Jordan,” what’s the next question? “What do you do?” That’s tied to my identity. That’s tied to my image, right? And what’s underneath the surface is purpose. This is your meaning, the work that God gives to do. It’s not the work that you ‑‑ you know, the imperative is not go out there and just figure out something until Jesus comes. No, it’s to subdue the earth. It’s to make this earth into the temple of God. His dwelling place will be with man. That’s the most exciting thing about being a Christian; we wake up every morning with a job to do.
WES: Yeah, yeah. Amen, amen. And that’s really ‑‑ I mean, this truth ‑‑ this big truth about not only who God is, but who we are ‑‑ you used the term, “his idols.” That may need some clarification.
WES: But you’re exactly right. That’s that word, that eikón, that’s what we are; we are his image. We are his ‑‑ same word for idols, and yeah, that’s the truth of this big picture of scripture. So speaking of scripture and the big picture, are there any particular passages that have really ‑‑ you found really helpful? And what have you been studying and pouring yourself into? A lot of what I’ve heard you talk about is Old Testament text and the prophets and the period of the judges, and what really has stuck out as really helpful in scripture for you?
JORDAN: Yeah, I think probably looking at the foundational texts, like the Genesis 1 and 2 and 3 narratives, looking at Exodus 3 not just as etiologies, right? Like, oh, this is how God made the earth and how he populated. Okay, yeah, that’s there, but it’s a polemic. It’s an argument, right? It’s not just there for information purposes to satisfy curiosity. It’s there as the foundation of this is who God is, this is who you are, and from that kernel you’re supposed to grow into the person God’s making you, so I think dealing with the narrative ‑‑ narrative texts. So to answer your question, like precise texts, yeah, I think these foundational texts that are paradigmatic texts, I think we’ve got to pay more attention to.
WES: Yeah, absolutely. Earlier, you mentioned a phrase that I think you’re kind of referencing from Psalm 115. I’ll just read it for people. Psalm 115, starting in verse 3, says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” I love that phrase, and you referenced that earlier, “those who make them become like them.” Any thoughts on that idea that we become like the idols that we make? Is that still true?
JORDAN: Well, yeah, because we’re made in God’s image, and to replace God with something else ‑‑ well, we’re going to reflect that as a mirror dimly. You know, like the ‑‑ when you worship the God who is ‑‑ I mean, this is what we exist for, right? The church isn’t an app that exists, so, okay, as a social ‑‑ no, we exist for the worship of Jesus Christ. That’s who we are. And that’s ‑‑ okay, so being conformed to his image isn’t just a matter of waking up every morning and saying, okay, now I’ve got to strive to be a better person. No, it’s rooted in the worship of Christ, and I think that, as we become a society more and more detached from one another because we’re detached from God, when we’re not able to recognize the image of God in the world, I think that’s behind ‑‑ no, I don’t think, I know, that’s behind our dysfunction, right? Was that muddy enough?
WES: No, no, that’s exactly right. That’s great. I mean, that’s ‑‑ yeah, I think that’s exactly right. When we worship something, we reflect ‑‑ we reflect whatever it is that we’re focused on, whatever we devote ourselves to. And, you know, there’s so much in scripture that mocks their gods, but I think if we apply this to our own life, that we would recognize that it mocks our gods, the gods, the things that are ‑‑ I love the way that Tim Keller describes a false god or an idol, is that it’s a good thing that we make an ultimate thing. So whatever it is, whether it’s family or it’s sex or it’s ‑‑
JORDAN: Or social justice.
WES: ‑‑ a food or, yeah, justice, absolutely ‑‑ whatever it is, it’s a good thing, but it’s not an ultimate thing, and when we make it an ultimate thing, a thing away from which we cannot live, and we devote ourselves to it and we think this is what’s going to give me meaning ‑‑ when we focus on that and give that our ultimate attention, then we are distorted because we’re ‑‑ like you said, we are bearing the image of something that isn’t God.
JORDAN: Yeah. And, ultimately, that is rebellion. I mean, that’s the real problem, right? I mean, it’s a rebellion. It’s a refusal to be who God says I am. It’s a refusal to recognize who God says he is, right? And, I mean, that’s the Romans 1 and 2 development, right? It starts somewhere. It starts with ingratitude. It starts with not honoring God as we ought and giving thanks. And from that, you know, it unwinds into idolatry because we ‑‑ it starts with the first thing, and that really ‑‑ I mean, it’s almost embarrassing from a philosophical or a theological ‑‑ no, the failure starts when we stop telling God thanks. When we don’t recognize, like, that’s where idolatry begins. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to false worship.
WES: Yeah, that is so rich, and I hope people stop and think about and recognize the truth of that, that this all starts with a failure to show gratitude to God. And I’m just sitting here thinking about how we have really replaced ‑‑ for all practical purposes, we have made things like devotion to sports or devotion to cable news and politics ‑‑ we have made that our religion. Like you said, we have taken the things that we depended on, God, or that the ancient people depended on, their pagan gods, their false gods ‑‑ we’ve solved those problems, so to speak, with technology, and so we have replaced God, or the gods, with these other things, and so we have made devotion to those things ‑‑ like devotion to politics. If we think it’s politics that solves all of these problems, and we’ve devoted ourselves to politics, it becomes our religion. That is ‑‑ for all practical purposes, that is our religion, and there are a lot of people that are sitting in our pews every Sunday, but Monday through Saturday, their religion is devoted to the TV screen so that they can tell, you know, whose side is winning.
JORDAN: Yeah. Yes, and it’s not just devotion, like, passively. You can tell who a god is by the sacrifices they demand, right? I mean, it’s not that the false gods are just benign objects that we misunderstand as powers. No, they make demands that “You give me, and I provide. You give me your allegiance. You give me the time. You give me your money. You give me” ‑‑ and whether it’s ‑‑ you know, whether it’s devotion to the latest health fad that we think is going to deliver us from the effects of aging and natural death, or whether it’s ‑‑ anything that we’re seeking life from, that we’re seeking our meaning from, that we’re deriving our sense of who we are that is not the “I am,” we’re forging idols.
WES: There’s a line in a recent Acappella song, “Desiring God” ‑‑ I don’t know if you’ve heard that song, but there’s a line in that song that says, “When the gadgets that we own start owning us back.”
WES: And that’s the thing with idols, is that they own us. They promise us all kinds of things which they never deliver. They overpromise and under‑deliver, but then they enslave us and we become slaves to our idols, and it distorts us, as we’ve been saying. It changes us.
JORDAN: I think that’s probably a good illustration, an analogy. Like whenever we’re reading the Old Testament and we wonder, well, why was idolatry such a perennial issue for the Israelites? When they come into the land of Canaan, why are they so drawn to the gods of the Philistines? Well, I mean, okay, imagine coming to Singapore or the United States from some remote, third‑world place in Africa and everybody’s got their cell phones, but you have a certain law that says, “But for us, cell phones are forbidden.” What do you mean? I can’t have what the people have? And so we can’t ‑‑ I mean, the seductiveness of idolatry is more than we can imagine, I suppose, but it’s not more than we can imagine. It’s in front of us, but it’s more than we recognize because it’s so in front of us.
WES: Yeah, yeah. Wow. That is a really good analogy, that it was in the air that they breathed. It was in the water that they drank and the food that they ate, and it was just ‑‑ and the social pressure to go ‑‑ in fact, you said something like this in one of your lessons, that when a group of people believe that in order to have crops, in order to have rain, you have to sacrifice to this god, anyone who doesn’t participate in that becomes an enemy. You are an enemy of the state. You are an enemy of the people if you aren’t sacrificing to our gods. In fact, early Christians were known as atheists, not because they didn’t believe in a god, but because they didn’t believe in the gods of the people. And if you’re not worshiping the gods of the people, if you’re not honoring them, then every time there’s a calamity, every time there’s a problem, we’re gonna blame you because you did not participate in sacrificing with the rest of us. And that social pressure continues to exist, and when you say, hey, I’m not gonna go along with ‑‑ hey, I see why you like this thing or I see why you think this is important, but I’m not gonna give my allegiance to it, I’m not gonna give my devotion to it, I’m not gonna worship it, then you become an enemy. And it’s like, hey, if you don’t get on board, you’re not one of us, and so we have to choose where our allegiance lies.
JORDAN: Yeah. And there’s no escaping the choice, right? There is no escaping the choice. You can’t get out of life without making it. We push off the choice as long as we can, but no, God is going to ‑‑ what will you do?
WES: Well, before we take a little break, let me ask you this, Jordan: How has this study changed you personally?
JORDAN: Yeah, I think it’s changed me personally in that I feel a connectedness to man. I recognize myself as man. Sometimes when we talk about humanity, it’s like, oh, here I’m up on a hill overlooking humanity and making judgments on it like I’m not part of it. No, I’m as ‑‑ we’ve been oppressed by the gods. We’ve been ‑‑ I mean, the foundations of our earth have shaken, Psalm 82, from these gods that we’ve created and exalted and worshiped because of the real power that God gives to them. So I’ve just been able to recognize myself as being just as subject to the siren song of the gods as anybody else and the insidious ways that the gods appear in my own life and insinuate themselves in my relationships. It’s made me aware of that, and I think it’s helped crystallize my focus in preaching. I think preaching has got to be about proclaiming the truth of God, front and center. Not good morals, not better homes and gardens, but the truth of God, because from that streams everything else.
WES: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great place to take a break.
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WES: Well, I’m really enjoying this conversation, Jordan. I want to encourage people to check out your congregation’s YouTube channel, the Hooker Church of Christ, and listen to some of the lessons that you’ve been bringing. But as a preacher in a congregation, you’re talking to people about their life and about scripture and about God, and so let me ask you, what are you hoping that people are learning from these lessons and seeing that they didn’t see before?
JORDAN: Yeah, I think, for myself, Wes ‑‑ and you can ‑‑ you’ll be able to appreciate this as a minister. You know, sometimes we ‑‑ because our salaries are being paid to let us have a job where we get to think about these things and digest these things and focus on these things that dominate our life, I think the realization that what I do is not other people’s job, necessarily, right, and that we exist for one another, right? What it’s helped me realize is just the ways that God’s people are being prevailed upon by the gods in their own lives and having sympathy for ‑‑ whenever Jesus sees the crowds ‑‑ you remember he sees the crowds like sheep without a shepherd, helpless and harassed. It’s not an anger, “You idiots, you with your false gods, you with your issue.” No, there’s compassion and there’s sympathy, and there’s the heart of God whose greatest goal, whose hope is to rescue people from Pharaoh, to rescue people from these gods that are oppressing, that are destroying, that are depriving them of life. So that’s what I’m hoping, that my preaching exalts God to the rescue of his people. Is that esoteric, or…
WES: It’s a great answer, and, I mean, it really ‑‑ it reminds me about ‑‑ especially, I keep thinking about the gospel of John and how John tells this story about Jesus and that it’s the truth that sets us free. And I think so often that idea gets taken out of context, but this is the truth.
WES: This is the pull back the curtain and show people ‑‑
WES ‑‑ what’s going on in the cosmic scope of things, what’s going on apocalyptically, and showing people the beasts that they’re worshiping and the dragon behind those beasts, and then that Jesus, the Son of Man, is on the throne. And that’s an amazing thing that we get to do that and sort of help pull back the curtain and show people the capital‑T Truth.
JORDAN: Yeah. Yeah, and I think we can’t discount that, Wes. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview, right? It is a ‑‑ we understand the world fundamentally different than those who know not God or obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. It’s not because, like, we’re better. That’s not the point. The point is that we’re living in a different world. We’ve entered eternity present ‑‑ I mean, eternity has invaded the present. Like, you can’t ‑‑ life’s gotta change, and I know we can’t walk around all the time like on cloud nine, just stunned and in awe, you know, that because of Christ appearing, because the true God has revealed himself, that everything has changed, there’s a glow about everything. I know we can’t do that all the time. We wouldn’t get anything done.
But every once in a while, shouldn’t we be stupefied by the ‑‑ just left speechless by the revelation of God? That God, the true God, the creator of the ends of the earth has come, and he’s come as my brother. Like that’s the truth of God. You know, we sing the beautiful hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” “What more can he say than to you he hath said?” On the cross, when the true God reveals his heart, when he exposes ‑‑ when the God of Exodus 3, the burning‑bush God, exposes himself personally, I mean, that’s the revelation of God among us, walking among ‑‑ THE God. It happened. Like that should stupefy us, and we can’t go back to our lives and have the same allurement to the ‑‑ to that. Like you said, we can’t look into the ‑‑ or we can look at the goblet from the outside, but once we’ve been told the filth on the inside, we can’t go back to it.
WES: You know, I think, so often ‑‑ I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this, but I think, so often, when I grew up and I heard the word “truth,” like the truth of scripture or, you know, God’s word is truth, I would think about a set of facts. I would ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ think about a system ‑‑ yeah, propositions. I would think about truth in that sort of way. But when you think of it as ‑‑ the word I like to use a lot as a synonym is “reality,” that this is ‑‑ this is reality, as opposed to the illusion. And that’s what these false gods, I think, represent, is this illusion that seems true. It seems real. It seems real. I mean, Washington, D.C. seems real. It seems like this is the ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ place where all of our problems are gonna be solved. This is reality. And even sports, to a certain extent, or whatever it is that we devote ourselves to, it seems like reality. But then Jesus comes along and says, no, all of this is an illusion. All of this is passing away. All of this is but for a moment. It’s the same thing Solomon said.
WES: It’s the same thing that God has always been revealing about what’s true versus what’s an illusion. And when we get to be a part of helping people to see that, it’s really a blessing.
JORDAN: Right. Yeah, I mean, theology and wrong‑headed theology, it’s all the same. We’re asking the question, what is God like? And whenever the logic of God appears, whenever the logos becomes flesh ‑‑ turns out the logic of God’s love, like it’s ‑‑ that’s the reality that ‑‑ like more real than electrons and neutrons is the creative love of God from which everything he is flows. That’s the reality of the world. That’s the truth. It’s incarnate. It’s not propositional. If you accept ‑‑ if you jump through our hoops and sign on the dotted line, then you can have the truth. If not, no truth for you. No! The truth that relates is a person.
WES: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and it goes back to even this idea you mentioned earlier about ‑‑ this idea that ‑‑ what’s the big deal with idolatry, and why did ‑‑ one is, why did people ‑‑ why were people drawn to it, the idols of Canaan? But also the idea of ‑‑ I think a lot of people read these Old Testament texts and they wonder, why does God get so upset about it? And I hear skeptics make the claim all the time, well, God is just ‑‑ he’s needy. You know, he wants to be worshiped. Like what kind of a God is this?
JORDAN: He’s a bully.
WES: Exactly. That’s exactly ‑‑ and so I think that this idea helps explain that, because if God really loves people, if he loves human beings and he recognizes that when you orient your life towards something that isn’t real, isn’t true, isn’t good for you, then of course he’s going to be heartbroken to see you live your life according to a lie and want you to reorient your life according to what is true, because it’s not only good for him and for his agenda, but it’s good for us, as well, to orient our life around the truth.
JORDAN: Right, yeah. What is Lewis’ line about? “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sunrise, not only because I see it, but because, by it, I see everything else.” You know, that’s ‑‑ when you’ve seen the true revelation of God, then, boy, it kind of ‑‑ you know, the world loses its shine a little bit, doesn’t it?
WES: Yeah, yeah. So let’s go beyond just the intellectual. You know, as you’re preaching and you’re teaching and you’re hoping that people will change the way that they think about certain things, that also obviously needs to translate into the way that people live their life. So what do you hope that people do differently? How do you hope that they apply what you’re teaching to their everyday life Monday through Saturday?
JORDAN: I think ‑‑ just as an example, I think maybe the way that we uncritically relate to our technology would be a good place to start. You know, I mean, what ‑‑ okay, that little portal in your pocket, to what ends are you using it? Is it for the glory of God, the one God, or are you just using it as a portal to pursue what other values you exalt, you know, in this place? I think that’s a good place to start.
WES: Yeah. You know, we’ve mentioned technology a couple of times, and it really has struck me recently how technology gives us this false promise, almost like it’s not our god, but that it is a magic box by which we can become gods, that it gives us what we falsely believe is the ability to transcend the natural boundaries and restrictions of the natural world so that we become all‑knowing and all‑present. No longer are we restricted to being in one place. I mean, right now we’re taking advantage of the ability ‑‑ you’re in Oklahoma, I’m in Texas, and we can talk to each other. We don’t have to be limited by space and time. We can be present in so many places. No longer are we limited to a handful of friends. It makes you wonder, how many people did the average person interact with in the ancient world? Probably not nearly as many as we interact with today. But there are consequences to that desire to try to be more than we were designed to be, to try to be present everywhere.
WES: And it’s no wonder that we struggle with so many things that we struggle with, because we’re trying to be gods, and we’re not capable of being gods.
JORDAN: Yeah. Douglas Murray, he talks about that. Like there’s that feeling that we all have that you’re on a treadmill going too fast for you to keep up with. Like it’s not just your experience, like that’s almost exclusively the effect of technology, right? So you combine that high speed with a sense of meaninglessness, and you just rush to the cliff that much faster, right? Yeah, so it’s not a single ‑‑ there’s not one place to look for the gods. They’re among us.
WES: That’s one of the things that John Mark Comer’s book, “Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” really helped me to wrap my mind around, was just how detrimental that fast‑paced life is to our spirituality. And one of the things I try to do is, on Saturdays, limit ‑‑ it’s hard to totally eliminate my use of smartphone from my life, but limit my use of smartphone on Saturday. If nothing else, on Saturday, I want to be limited, like enjoy the actual limitations that God placed on us of space and time, to be present with the people that you’re physically present with, to just be here in this place and not try to be more than you are and try to go further than you’re supposed to go and know more than you’re supposed to know, and just be present, and it’s amazing what a gift that is. We think of that as a restriction.
JORDAN: Right, right.
WES: But like you said, otherwise, we’re on this treadmill and we’re running ourselves to death.
JORDAN: Yeah. I mean, the true God walks ‑‑ when he walked among us, chose to live at a time in which he walks three miles per hour as the speed of life, not the 80 miles per hour in the false ‑‑ you know, the world that we’re trying to create for ourselves absent ‑‑ with a missing god. God, he walks it. Yeah, he’s ‑‑ I think that’s a really good point, Wes. Thanks for bringing that out.
WES: Oh, well, I mean, I love all of these ways that you’re talking about false gods and our need to call them out and to recognize them for what they are and expose them, but you’re exactly right. Like a very practical application of that is just to critically examine how we’re using technology. That’s what I think ‑‑ there’s a lot of things that I would probably, in the practical, not appreciate about the Amish community, but at least, in a theoretical sense, that’s what I’ve been told that the Amish community does when a technology comes along is at least critically examine it from the perspective of the community and say, will this technology be helpful or good for us accomplishing what we’re supposed to be accomplishing? And whether or not they actually do that or not, it’s a great question to ask. And I feel like, so often, we don’t do that. We just assume that a new technology is a good technology and we need to just adopt it. And our life is changing, and we have become ‑‑ what I think is interesting is we used to be dependent on one another. You know, if I needed ‑‑ even just within my lifetime, if I needed to get to the airport, well, I’m gonna call Jordan and I’m gonna see would Jordan mind waking up a little bit early, taking me to the airport so that I can catch my flight? Well, now I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to depend on friendship because I have Uber and I have Lyft, so I don’t have to depend on friendship, and so we have eliminated community from our life. But instead of being dependent on other human beings that reflect the image of God, now I’m a slave to and dependent on technology, and if I don’t have my phone, well ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ I don’t know what to do because now I don’t have friends that can actually do for me. I’m not dependent on a community of people who love me and who are there for me. Now I am dependent on this faceless technology that has become ‑‑ I think that I’m its master, but actually ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ it’s the other way around.
JORDAN: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, there’s something particularly insidious when we use technology to continue on the self‑deception that we’re God. Well, I don’t need God because I’ve got this buffer that I can accomplish things just direct. I push the button and it does ‑‑ what do I need God for? You know, what is the ‑‑ I’ve got this technology. I’ve got this. And, I mean, the worst thing that God can do is say, okay, your will be done. All right. You live in that lie, right? And when we live in that lie, look around. That’s the condition of the world. That’s not a surprise.
WES: Yeah. Well, it’s something I’ve been pointing out a lot in my teaching lately is just how the self has become our god, and I think technology is one reflection of that. The way that we view sexuality is another reflection of that, and how everything in our culture, in our world, tells us you are ultimately the determiner of ultimate truth. “Your truth.” “Live your truth.” “You do you.” “Be you.” “Discover you, and just do whatever it is that you want.” But the truth is, I’m a horrible god.
WES: I’m not a good god, and I will destroy me. I don’t even know what I want. And even if I did know what I want, if I got it, it probably would be, like you said, the very worst thing that could happen to me. And so everything around us tells us to be our own god and to obey our will, and that is the worst thing we could possibly do.
JORDAN: And that’s the human condition. That’s not a Western situation. That’s like in the garden, right? I mean, whenever the first couple is ‑‑ what is the temptation but to attend to the wrong theology? And what I mean by that, what instinct is Eve pursuing whenever she sees that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is good for food to be desired to make one wise? What’s being done is there’s an assumption, right, that the Satan tells man, you want to be like God, right? That’s not a bad thing. Yeah, his purpose is to call us to his own glory and excellence. We’re to become partakers of the divine nature. No bad thing. But the assumption of man is that, well, God must be God because he takes what he wants. He does what he ‑‑ what he does is right, that there is no internal ‑‑ no. And the reality is that God exists in love. Like, whenever ‑‑ God doesn’t just take. He doesn’t just pursue and take and forge his own ‑‑ no, he gives.
WES: Yeah. And I love that you pointed out the bad theology in the garden. I mean, that’s the thing, is God was nothing but generous ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ and merciful and gracious to Adam and Eve and gave them all of the trees to eat of, all of this abundance, and the only thing that they could focus on when Satan brought this up was what they weren’t allowed to have, which was for their own good, and so there was this assumption that God is stingy or God is cruel or God is keeping something good back from them. And so, you know, again, it’s ironic that they wanted to become like God when they were already as close to being ‑‑ they were made to be God’s image in the world, and yet they assumed something about God that wasn’t true.
JORDAN: Yeah, theology matters.
WES: Yeah. Oh, for sure, absolutely. So let me ask you this: If you went back and you re‑preached some of the things that you’ve already preached, or re‑taught some of the things that you’ve already taught, is there anything you would say differently, or an emphasis that you would make that you didn’t make, or changes that you would make and you think, I wish I had put more emphasis on this, or I would talk more about that, or anything like that?
JORDAN: Yeah, I think so, probably. I don’t know ‑‑ specifically, I think probably I’m guilty sometimes of wanting to educate rather than enlighten. I mean, there is ‑‑ and that’s an easy problem to have. Or sometimes I get in the mode where, boy, you better listen, because I’m really about to tell you about something; I’m going to tell you something about God. Boy, I’m about to tell you something about God; you should listen. Or just get around to talking about God, spend more time talking about God is probably ‑‑ saying good things about God. We create worlds with our words. The preacher in Ecclesiastes, what does he say? Like the preacher sought good words. I think sometimes I’ve been more guilty of wanting to educate than enlighten.
WES: Well, I’ll tell you that every time I’ve heard you speak, I’ve felt enlightened, so I do appreciate the illumination that you bring to people’s life and to the Word, and you do such a marvelous job of speaking well about God.
So what’s next? What’s on your agenda? What are you planning on teaching and going towards next?
JORDAN: I’m really wanting to spend a lot more time in the epistles. I’m gonna give a go at 1 Corinthians, but right now, Billy McGuiggan and I are kind of hashing back and forth a preaching schedule for next year. We’ve got the idea we want to kind of preach on the same themes and develop texts together, so I’m looking forward to that. Any excuse to spend time with McGuiggan is a good excuse.
WES: Absolutely. He’s a great mutual friend. I think he’ll be on the podcast in a couple weeks and ‑‑
JORDAN: Oh, can’t wait.
WES: ‑‑ I’m so thankful for Billy, and I’m thankful for you, Jordan. Thank you for this time today, but mostly, thank you for your work in the Kingdom, Brother.
JORDAN: Thank you, Wes. Thank you so much for your way.
Thank you so much for listening to the Radically Christian Bible study podcast. If you have just a moment, we would love for you to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you’re listening. It really does help people find this content. I also want to thank the guests who join me each week; Travis Pauley, who edits this podcast; Beth Tabor, who often volunteers her time to transcribe it; and our whole McDermott Road church family, who make it possible for us to provide this Bible study for you. Now let’s go out and love like Jesus.